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  • Writer's picturePeter Roehrich

A Perfect Intimate Ceremony

Whether you're planning to elope or want a mini-mony, you might wonder how to plan your intimate ceremony. In short, do what's authentic to you and your partner. Let's look at a few considerations that will help you pull off the perfect small wedding.

There are a few essentials to plan: a place, a date and time, something to say, a marriage license, and an officiant. Let's take these step by step.


The place for your ceremony is important for a few reasons. Obviously, you need a physical place to stand or sit. Your place (note that I'm not using the term venue because that conjures a grand space) can be a tiny room, the great outdoors, or anywhere else that speaks to you.

I love it when couples choose to tie the knot outdoors (as the weather allows). This is wide open (excuse the pun); you could use a back yard or a beach. Some places may require a permit, like a park, so contact the owner or administrator in advance to make sure you're in the clear. If you do decide on an outdoor event, consider your rain plan, and think about whether the site gets harsh sun.

You could also pick an indoor spot that appeals to you. There's tiny Dorsey Chapel in Prince George's county, which might be perfect for a small gathering. I also had the pleasure of officiating a ceremony in a lovely, postage stamp sized coffee shop. I've also officiated in living rooms and kitchens.

Place is also important because it will dictate where you obtain your marriage license. You must, with few exceptions, hold your ceremony within the jurisdiction that issued your license, and your officiant must be recognized by that jurisdiction.

Date and Time

When should you show up? Deciding on time may fit in with your location availability. If it's a busy place and you want a quiet ceremony, consider sunrise or sunset. Do you have any VIP guests who you cannot imagine celebrating without? If that's the case, make sure to loop them into your planning process.

Sometimes it's important to hold the ceremony on a particular date. Maybe it's an anniversary of when you met. If you hold your ceremony with just the two of you and your officiant, you'll have quite a bit of time and date flexibility.

Something to Say

When you and your betrothed tie the knot you need some means of affirming you wish to marry. The way you do this is up to you. You can simply say "I do", or you can write page long vows. Your officiant can help you with this if you have writers block or don't know what you'd like to say—I always offer this to my clients.

Marriage License

Your marriage license is what differentiates a beach side wedding from a walk among the dunes. You need to apply for your marriage license, so allow some lead time, and keep in mind that many jurisdictions' marriage license expire after some time if the marriage is not solemnized. Marriage licenses must be obtained from the jurisdiction where your hold the ceremony, so keep this in mind. If you are tying the knot in a far away spot and you cannot obtain the license in advance, contact the court to see if they will grant a waiver to any waiting period.

The good news is that I find the marriage bureaus at the Maryland and DC courts very helpful.

Check with your officiant to be sure they understand (and are compliant with) any registration requirements. Professional officiants know these things inside and out.


Your officiant facilitates the ceremony, weather brief or elaborate. Choose someone your are comfortable with. This consideration comes above all others. You can opt for a professional officiant (someone like me), a member of clergy from your place of worship (this may not be viable if the tradition doesn't allow for a ceremony outside of a place of worship), a court official, or a loved one.

I encourage you to choose a professional officiant or clergy member for a few reasons. The first comes down to simple logistics: we know what to do to make your ceremony legally binding and we're used to filling out marriage licenses. Also, we speak publicly all the time, so we won't have the nerves of a first timer. Because we do this regularly, we have a ton of ideas to help you craft a ceremony that is authentic to you and your partner.

Wrap Up

As you plan your intimate wedding, keep these tips in mind. Traditionally weddings have been lavish events with scores of guests. Traditions are just that—something that has been done over and over—they are not law. (Does it help to think of it as peer pressure from the past?) I always encourage my clients to reflect on what means the most to them about their relationship, and find ways to honor that, regardless of the length of the guest list.

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